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The Self-Promotion in Evangelicalism

 

The apostle Paul rebuked those who self-promoted
their Christian ministries, thereby exposing the
ecclesiastical bankruptcy of
evangelicalism.

 

knight 1Paul’s great goal in the 10th chapter of his second letter to the Corinthians is to rescue the Christians from the precipice of a disobedience unto death. It’s New Covenant ministry, black and blue with blood and guts.

As a church we’re studying this letter of Paul, and it’s a bit like following a battle-weary general into combat. Paul’s enemies were better equipped and deeply entrenched. They weren’t away in some foreign place. Instead, they held the high ground – the pulpit in the church he had planted – the church of Corinth.

Several evil “Christian leaders” cowed (and wowed) Corinth’s Christians into silence. They were awesome dudes who could do ministry wherever, whenever.

That’s why they’re in Corinth. Of all places. They weren’t preaching where Christ was not known, but were intentionally preaching where He was. They were in Corinth to fix the Christians there. You know, make disciples. They wanted followers to their type of Christianity. But according to Paul they had overstepped, and so were probably unregenerate.

They hadn’t been invited by the Christians in Corinth, nor were the Christians in Corinth mature enough to see why that was important. No, they had been sent to Corinth by their own “Christian leaders” from other places, men who would eventually bear the greater judgment. Why? Because they schemed to schism the body of Christ in Corinth.

Paul was so different. Unlike these men he wouldn’t self-promote himself in another man’s “sphere” of ministry, but took the gospel to the lost:

so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you,
and not to boast in what has been accomplished
in the sphere of another.
(2 Cor. 10:16)

These uninvited men were the first century’s ecclesiastical evangelicals, self-promoting their ministries:

“No apostle tells me where and how I do my preaching
ministry. I go preach wherever I want, whenever
I want, in whatever way I want.”

These men weren’t slouches but knew how to play the champion for Christ and get professing Christians to hand over hearts and money. They knew how to look upright while slandering men like Paul, a truly godly evangelist with an altogether humble approach (2 Cor. 10:1-2). They even excelled Paul, for they were free to extend themselves in a place where a Christian church already existed: Corinth.

They were attractive men with large personalities, doing the evangelical thing, making themselves and their ministries widely known. They probably even named their ministries after themselves.

According to Paul they measured themselves by the praise they got from others. They validation came from two sources. First, from the Christian leaders who sent them to Corinth with letters of recommendation (3:1). By using the praise of famous Christian leaders as capital, they bankrolled their confidence game. That praise allowed them to get in the doors and slyly slander Paul, taking advantage of his humility. This deception earned them praise from a second source – from the church itself – the church in Corinth (2 Cor. 11:4).

And it all devastated Paul.

self promotion 1This too is like present-day evangelicalism, a schizophrenic movement if ever there was one. The same Christian leader will bash “the evangelical church” one day, and then milk it for hundreds of thousands of dollars in book royalties and speaking fees the next.

These leaders decry those evangelicals who disagree with them, especially claiming they are unfaithful to evangelicalism. But the truth is that millions of evangelicals support the heresy of Modalism. Evangelical seminaries teach synergism, deny the penal-substitutionary atonement, and sneer at the inerrancy of sacred Scripture.

Who’s evangelicalism is it?

Evangelicals oppose each other on every theological topic there is, from the doctrine of God to the holiness of Scripture. Evangelicals can’t be defined theologically no matter how hard one argues. To do so is naivete with blinders to the present. No, most evangelicals are united by something else. Sad to say, its the self-promotion of their ministries, extended into spheres that are not their own.

That’s why self-promotion isn’t shameful for evangelicals, as I’ll show below when discussing George Whitefield and John Wesley. It’s simply a part of the movement’s DNA, from the beginning.

 

Who is an Evangelical?

evangomoter 2So, who exactly is an evangelical? There is no universally agreed-upon answer, but Timothy Larsen’s page one definition in The Cambridge Companion to Evangelical Theology is the best one I’ve seen:

“An evangelical is

  1. an orthodox protestant, and
  2. stands in the tradition of global Christian networks arising from the eighteenth-century revival movements associated with John Wesley and George Whitefield.”

As good as that is – and it is the definition I will use here – yet millions of self-identifying evangelicals disagree vehemently with his first point, orthodox Protestantism.[1]Representing the Stone-Campbell Restoration movement, William R. Baker writes, “Convening on August 19, 1846, as many as a thousand delegates from more than 150 nations and representing more than 50 denominations gathered for 14 days in London… It is here that evangelicalism was born.” Baker identifies as an evangelical but not as a Protestant – and he delays the start of evangelicalism to 100 years after Wesley and Whitefield, and the start of the Restorationist movement. Evangelicalism and the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. W. R. Baker, 31 These range from Anti-trinitarian Pentecostals to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s homosexual bishops to Roman Catholics. All these people call themselves evangelicals. Are they morally wrong for doing so?

No, they aren’t wrong… today. No one today possesses the right to exclude anyone who self-identifies as an evangelical. It’s not as though anyone can turn to chapter and verse in the apostolic deposit in Holy Scripture for the definition of evangelicalism or an evangelical.

But such people are interlopers historically.

That’s why Larsen’s definition is important and excels others, including Bebbington’s.[2]Larsen’s definition is superior to David Bebbington’s quadrilateral since Bebbington’s ignores history. Bebbington allows for all sorts of persons who would not have self-identified as evangelicals such as Athanasius, Augustine, John Chrysostom, John Calvin, Martin Luther, and Richard Baxter. Larsen actually adds three more points to his definition but they build off the first two and in my judgment add little to them. Adding to Larsen’s revival component, Mark Noll adds the conversion-assessment theology of Jonathan Edwards into his definition of evangelical in his book, The Rise in Evangelicalism. But he self-admittedly describes the efforts of less than one half of evangelicalism’s history, the Calvinistic part, for Edward’s conversion-assessment theology has never been embraced by John Wesley’s evangelical Arminian heirs, which numerically are more than the Calvinistic heirs. As a word, “evangelical” began earlier in Christian history, but as a movement, “evangelicalism” began in Europe and North America in the early 1700’s. This history, which will be explored below, allows for discerning and removing the jingoistic patriotism some attach to the movement.

So going into this article let’s all take a deep breath and admit that today there is no agreed upon identification of evangelical that will suit all evangelicals. Let’s call it what it is and not what we want it to represent. If we do, we can look at it more accurately and see that it’s visible face is comprised of what Larsen calls “global Christian networks,” and networks are not churches.

Hence, the phrase “the evangelical church” makes zero sense and is only confusing. For as any of us should admit, no  one church and no one ecclesiastical tradition embodies evangelicalism. Evangelicalism has been more about para-church networks from the movement’s beginning, and without para-churches of some form there is no evangelicalism.

 

Evangelicalism contra The Apostles

Yet, this article isn’t about that. It’s about the disobedience of a self-adulatory “gospel movement” that rejects apostolic ecclesiology for something considered more evangelistically effective – networks, revivals, and self-promoting leaders. As Larsen points out, evangelicalism arose several hundred years ago in response to two leaders (Wesley and Whitefield), powerful revival preaching, and trans-continental networking. Today it numbers its adherents in the millions.

evangelicalism 2Now, if your heart and soul is tied into evangelicalism I would simply remind you again that there is no precept or example of it in the Bible, and hence it is not a part of the apostolic faith delivered once for all to the saints. It developed 1,700 years after the resurrection of the Son of God.

Ask yourself this. Who are more gospel-centered, the apostles, or modern evangelicals?

Ok, that was easy. How about this. Who believes God limits men to geographic spheres of ministry to the body of Christ in a single city, the apostles, or modern evangelicals?

And all of a sudden maybe being an evangelical is found not to be in the Bible but also possibly in direct conflict with the apostle Paul in 2 Cor. 10:13-18. So, if this describes you, it’s a tension I can’t resolve. You see, if you identify yourself as a gospel-centered evangelical then hopefully you identify your Christianity with that which is taught in the Bible: the substitutionary atonement gospel. But as a gospel-centered evangelical you also want to identify yourself with things that are either not taught or contradicted by apostles of Jesus Christ: 1) evangelicalism’s networks, 2) revivals, and 3) self-promotion.

It’s a tension you don’t need to live with and perhaps this article can help you sift out why your true loyalties ought to lie: with the apostles who wrote the New Testament by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Background of 2 Corinthians

2 CorinthiansAs I mentioned at the top, this letter describes a battle for Christian obedience in a deeply divided church, the church in the ancient city of Corinth. While Paul has been away attending to other churches like Ephesus some men came to Corinth and to the church there, likely sent by other churches (2 Cor. 3:1). Somehow they quickly developed the confidence of a large portion of its members.

These men likely traveled the circuit of Paul’s churches seeking to divide the body of Christians in each. But their presence in Corinth and Paul’s words on who they are and how they do ministry have once and for all clarified an ultimate problem.

Every church has two, and only two groups: the disobedient and the obedient. The obedient follow the teachings of Christ and His apostles:

“For to this end also I wrote, so that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things”
(2 Cor. 2:9).

Paul takes it a matter of course that those who are obedient have a God-strengthened submission to what apostles preach and write. On the other hand, the disobedient resent both.

So 2 Corinthians is Paul’s strategy to expose who is, and who is not, obedient to him as Christ’s apostle. Then, once this obedience was fulfilled in the church Paul would punish the rest of the church upon his arrival. The punishment would end in church discipline (cf. Mat. 18:17, 2 Cor. 13:1-2).[3]Paul wrote 2 Corinthians from northern Greece and was planning his next visit south to Corinth in the near future. This visit would be his third to the city in his apostolic travels. The first time he planted the church (1 Cor. 3:6) and the second time was a “painful visit” (2 Cor. 2:3). His third visit was coming soon, but to prepare the Corinthians for it, he wrote a letter of instruction in 2 Corinthians. That instruction involves their obedience in not only separating from a group of unbelievers in their church but also from one or more leaders in the church, men who are critics of Paul. If the believers do not separate from the critics and their followers then the church in Corinth will descend into full disobedience.

Specifically, Paul explains what obedience will cost in the central passage of the letter:

“Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord.”
(2 Cor. 6:17)

Paul commands a separation of the obedient from the disobedient in the same church. The two groups are again described Paul’s battle terminology of 2 Cor. 10:6:

“we are ready to punish all disobedience,
whenever your obedience is complete.”

How does this obedience/disobedience relate to evangelicalism? Those who self-promote themselves as evangelicals can’t handle Paul’s demand for obedience, at least, not the kind asserted in 2 Cor. 10:12-16. In this passage Paul demands obedience to the only institution Jesus Christ created, the local church, and in particular, the one local church in the city comprising all the Christians in Corinth.

Evangelicals are adamantly opposed to this institution. It’s that opposition that birthed the movement, but remember. The churches in the early 1700s the first evangelicals opposed were almost always filled with unbelievers. So different than Corinth.

 

Warfare, Apostle Style

gauntletSince the letter was designed to secure obedience, Paul promised to wage what he called warfare on those despising his apostleship in his soon-coming to CorinthIn a battle strategy reminiscent of ancient siege warfare, he will:

  1. Employ weapons of warfare that are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses (2 Cor. 10:4);
  2. Rescue all taken captive by the false leaders (2 Cor. 10:5);
  3. Execute severe punishment on all those who are disobedient to him (2 Cor. 10:6).

But really, Paul didn’t want to do any of this. Nor should he have had to. So he first pled with the believers in the Corinthian church to do this hard work themselves before he arrived. The work was hard – it involved confronting the men who were leading the disobedience against Paul in the church.

To gain their involvement Paul exposed the grave disobedience of these self-commending men in 2 Cor. 10:7-18, who through personality and intrigue promoted themselves and their own ministries before the Christians. And with great effect. Paul threw down his apostolic gauntlet, as it were, by showing how illegitimate their ministries were. To throw down a gauntlet refers to the ancient practice of challenging one’s critic to a duel. While Paul’s challenge was against the disobedient leaders in Corinth, he was really fighting for the submission of the Christians in Corinth to his apostleship, a submission that is today rejected by evangelicals.

As I break down 2 Cor. 10:7-18 I see five fingers in his apostolic gauntlet, each of them demanding the Corinthians compare him, as Christ’s apostle, favorably to the self-willed false-apostles. The fingers explain where our modern disobedience lies.

 

The First Finger:
They are Destroyers; Paul is a Builder
(vv. 7-9)

None of the false men in Corinth would agree with him, of course, but nonetheless, Paul built, and they destroyed. The real effect of all their ministry activity was to only destroy the work of God:

“even if I boast somewhat further about our authority,
which the Lord gave for building you up
and not for destroying you, I will
not be put to shame”
(2 Cor. 10:8)

The church in Corinth was ready to collapse into schism if these men and their self-promotion was not confronted by the obedient. It would have schismed into multiple churches in Corinth, each with their own leaders, personalities, coupled to each one’s evangelistic methods for survival, leaving the unity of the body of Christ in Corinth destroyed.

 

The Second Finger:
They Slander from Afar, Paul Confronts when Present
(vv. 10-11)

Second, such men slander Paul when he is absent. They say of Paul:

“His letters are weighty and strong, but his
personal presence is unimpressive
and his speech contemptible.”
(2 Cor. 10:10)

But in response, Paul says to them,

“Let such a person consider this, that what we are
in word by letters when absent, such persons
we are also in deed when present.
(2 Cor. 10:11)

Paul would come and in person exercise such discipline as would remove these men and their followers from the church. It all goes back to the kind of confrontation Paul threatened several months earlier to the whole church:

What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod,
or with love and a spirit of gentleness?
(1 Cor. 4:19-21)

 

The Third Finger:
Paul’s Geographic Territory of Ministry
(vv. 12-14)

Most significantly, Paul asserts in verses 12- 13 that such false men measure their ministries by men’s measurements, and thus are without spiritual understanding. Meanwhile, Paul measures his by a God-given allotment he calls “sphere:”

For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with
some of those who commend themselves; but when
they measure themselves by themselves and
compare themselves with themselves,
they are without understanding.

But we will never boast beyond our measure,
but within the measure of the sphere which
God apportioned to us as a measure,
to reach even as far as you.
(2 Cor 10:12-13)

Like modern evangelicals such men commend themselves, or as we call it today, self-promotion. In distinction, Paul says God apportions places of ministry, a word of quantifiable measurement. The word for “apportion” is “divide.” God Himself divides a whole into pieces and gives those pieces to various men. Paul’s sphere was not only Corinth, but the whole of Achaia (Rom. 15:26, 1 Cor. 16:15, 2 Cor. 1:1, 9:2, 11:10). The remainder of men in ministry in those places are like evangelicals who labor without belief that God apportions spheres of ministry. Such men, Paul says, are without understanding, for the propose to ministry for God but obtain places of ministry from men.

Paul refers to a “measure” four times in these two verses. The word “measure” is not a verb but a noun. Paul is not referring to the act of measuring, but the count after the measuring has finished. For example, to measure length is to arrive at a count. In 2 Corinthians the measure is the number of the redeemed persons in Corinth, that is, the genuinely saved persons who have been baptized by Christ Himself into His local body in Corinth (1 Cor. 12:13).

Unlike the false apostles Paul could only boast within “the measure of the sphere God apportioned,” that is, the entire number of Christians in Corinth. They came out of his church planting ministry whereas the false apostles could only point to the commendation from other men.

A “sphere” is a geographic locale of ministry granted to a man by God, and in Paul’s case that was Corinth. He wouldn’t boast in ministry done in places he hadn’t labored but rather “within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even as far as you.” The people Paul writes of are the obedient Christians of v. 6, not the disobedient who must be punished with church discipline.

 

The Fourth Finger:
Paul’s Geographic Church
(vv. 15-16)

Paul returns twice with the word “sphere” in verses 15-16, only now it is Paul’s sphere, that is, the Corinthian church:

“not boasting beyond our measure, that is,
in other men’s labors, but with the hope
that as your faith grows, we will be,
within our sphere, enlarged
even more by you”
(2 Cor. 10:15)

His rule of geographic ministry is here revealed to labor so as to solidify one geographic church (the one church in a city) before moving on to plant a new church in a further sphere, or region:

“so as to preach the gospel even to the regions
beyond you, and not to boast in what
has been accomplished in
the sphere of another.”
(2 Cor. 10:16)

In v. 16 Paul again writes of a “sphere” but connects its geographic sense to what is accomplished there – a city or region – to a church in that region. Paul’s rule of ministry kept him from planting a church in a place where others labored so that he might not boast in the geographic sphere where God had already worked through another man.

On the other hand there were false apostles in Corinth who did boast in the sphere of another. No doubt they believed they were Christ servants, but they were deceived by those who sent them. Their ministries only created schism, confusion and competition.

 

The Fifth Finger:
Commendation by God
(vv. 17-18)

These were also men who self-promoted their ministry by presenting the commendation of distant men to the Christians in Corinth (cf. 2 Cor. 3:1). Such commendations were powerful since the Corinthians didn’t know who to trust. But according to Paul, self-promoting men could not claim the commendation of God:

“He who boasts is to boast in the Lord. For it is not
he who commends himself that is approved,
but he whom the Lord commends.”
(2 Cor. 10:17-18)

Paul’s fifth finger in the gauntlet answers the question: by what measure could the Corinthian Christians compare Paul to the men among them? He was far way and had a mixed reputation due to a lot of detractors, but they were spotless. Paul’s answer is that he only boasts within his geographic sphere of ministry. Therefore, his “commendation is “from the Lord” because it can be measured by anyone willing to judge things geographically.

Paul was commended and they were not for the simple reason that he refused to do any ministry where it might hinder the work of another man, past or present, already there serving Christ. The other men inserted themselves where they were not invited and did not belong.

Such is the opposite of self-directed men in ministry. They preach on their ministerial triumphs to gain confidence, but the triumphs are actually the fruit of other men’s labors who came before them. They also name drop when a mention of their connections might earn them esteem.

But God’s commendation comes by what is done legitimately in one’s appointed sphere: “If anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Tim. 2:5).

Earlier in the letter Paul showed his difference morally from the men presently among the Corinthians:

“we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not
walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but
by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves
to every man’s conscience in the sight of God”
(2 Cor. 4:2)

Thus in 2 Cor. 10 Paul is saying, “I will only boast in the fields, or regions that God has apportioned  me,” and “I have a rule of ministry: never self-promote. Never use the commendation of distant men. Keep to your own, unless you go to take the gospel where it isn’t preached. That way you will never boast in another’s sphere.”

Who ever says that today??

And he learned it from the Best, who had a limited sphere of ministry in the days of His flesh: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mat. 15:24). Jesus Christ not only practiced a limited sphere of ministry but limited the spheres of ministry for those He sent:

“Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not
enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go
to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And
as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom
of heaven is at hand.’

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers,
cast out demons. Freely you received,
freely give.” (Mat. 10:5-8)

When Peter, James, and John recognized the grace given to Paul, they limited their spheres:

“and recognizing the grace that had been given to me,
James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to
be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right
hand of fellowship, so that we might
go to the Gentiles and they
to the circumcised.”
(Gal. 2:9).

This isn’t new. It’s the book of Acts as well.[4]For instance, Peter and John must first validate the gospel’s extension into Samaria before accepting it as the work of God. The same happens with Cornelius (Acts 10-11). Later, Antioch’s troublers are discredited: “Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Act 15:24-26). It just isn’t believed anymore.

 

Improper Sphere Sovereignty

sphere sovereigntyIt isn’t as if evangelicals are against all spheres. They just won’t submit to the biblical kind because it consists of apostolic limitations. Limits of geography are simply not a part of evangelical vocabulary.

Instead, from Pentecostals to Calvinists modern evangelicals are awash in what is called ‘sphere sovereignty,”  believing that God wants Christians leading the world in a variety of “spheres.” These aren’t geographic spheres Paul wrote of, but something else. Here’s an example from C. Peter Wagner, a leading Pentecostal leader (and one who regards himself an apostle of Jesus Christ), who claims,

“Among practicing apostles, I have found a relatively low level of
practical understanding of apostolic spheres.”

The actual history of the idea is nothing more than an influential evangelical claiming “God told me.”[5]I got the word “spheres” from II Corinthians 10 where Paul speaks in the New American Standard about the “spheres” he had been called into. And with these spheres there were seven of them… As one, Wagner wants alleged modern-day apostles of Jesus Christ taking spiritual and practical authority in various spheres, but Wagner’s modern day apostles virtually trip all over each other if for no other reason than there are so many persons who claims to Christ’s modern day apostles in the same city. In distinction Paul “aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation” (Rom. 15:20).[6]The alleged apostolic spheres are, 1. The home; 2. The church; 3. Schools; 4. Government and politics; 5. The media; 6. Arts, entertainment, and sports; 7. Commerce, science, and technology. Wagner’s apostolic theology is exposed as false and dangerous by 2 Corinthians 10:12. According to Paul the false apostle had gained acceptance among the believers in Corinth. First, he had “classed himself.” “To class” is from “ἐγκρῖναι” – to assess or judge something for the purpose of classifying it. Wagner’s classifications of apostles are ecclesiastical apostles, functional apostles, congregational apostles, convening apostles, ambassadorial apostles, mobilizing apostles, territorial apostles, and marketplace apostles. Second, the false apostle had also “compared himself.””To compare” is from “συγκρῖναι” and describes a process of approval from others. Which raises the question, ‘how do today’s apostles get recognized as apostles?‘ For Wagner, the answer appears to be that he will recognize you as an apostle through an organization, the International Coalition of Apostles. Though few Christians recognize this organization, apostles can recognize each other. At least, as long as their annual dues are paid up. Thus they measure themselves by themselves.

Moving from Pentecostalism to Dutch Calvinism, Abraham Kuyper argued that all of life was comprised of spheres such as art, science, politics, education, commerce, and religion, and that it is the proper mission of Christians to excel in all of these since

“There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!‘”

But none of these are the “spheres” the apostle Paul wrote about when teaching Christianity.

 

The Proper Sphere: Geography

canonThe Greek word for “sphere” in 2 Cor. 10 is “canon” (κανών). It could refer to a rod with marks on it used for measuring area and distance, or alternatively, a tool used for the fitting together of the stones pieces of a temple. [7]When used to build temples, a canon was a wooden bar coated with red pigment. “The stones of great public buildings were shaped according to precise specifications… The process was an elaborate one. It entailed preparing surfaces by cutting and rubbing, and testing them for flatness by means of a ‘canon,’ a straightedge that could show up any unevenness on the stone…“David J Williams, Paul’s Metaphors, 17. Using a pigmented rod showed shaping flaws in the stones so they could be resurfaced so they snugly fit together. That process is called “being fit together” (used in Eph. 2:21, 4:16). Williams, p. 28, n. 72. When referring to a measuring rod (like a yard stick or a meter stick) a ‘canon” defined the size of a field, or larger, a geographic locale.

It is this meaning that fits here in 2 Corinthians. The word was, as JB Lightfoot wrote, “taken from surveying and mapping out a district, so as to assign to different persons their respective parcels of ground.”[8]Commentary on Galatians, p. 221. This is its primary meaning in Second Corinthians:

“But we will not boast beyond our measure, but within the measure
of the sphere (canon) which God apportioned to us as
a measure to reach even as far as you.”
(2 Cor. 10:13)

“not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men’s labors, but
with the hope that as your faith grows, we will be, within
our sphere (canon), enlarged even more by you”
(2 Cor. 10:15)

“We will… preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you,
and not boast in what has been accomplished
in the sphere (canon) of another.”
(2 Cor. 10:16)

Sometimes Paul’s “sphere” is misunderstood as referring to ethnic boundaries that he and the “pillars” of the Jerusalem church agreed on during his second post conversion visit to Jerusalem. The idea is expressed as this: Paul was to preach to the Gentiles, while James, Peter and John were to go to the Jews (Gal 2:9).

But that’s too simplistic. Paul took the gospel to both – the Jew first and then to the Greek in the same city. The agreement was ethnic priority, not ethnic exclusivity. What these men wouldn’t do, or encourage others to do, was to take the gospel to a region where another man, apostle or not, had already founded a church.

So what Paul has done in these verses is pull back the curtain so Christians can see how self-willed men who are illegitimately sent operate in ministry. They grab Christians for their churches without regard for what Christ has already done in that place. They claim He has sent them when the existing Christian leaders and churches in that region have no need for him.  Such evangelicals widen schism in the local body of Christ everywhere they go.

But Paul hated schism because it divided Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10-13), so He limited his ministry to the spheres, which is to say, the geographic regions God apportioned him:

“Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation.”
(Rom 15:17-20)

temple stonesPaul’s rule of ministry was his godly limit to remain in Corinth until the church there was delivered from the disobedient and self-willed men. Only when the church there was safe would he then will take the gospel to a more distant region the gospel was not.

This rule of ministry was successful. After the showdown of 2 Corinthians Paul wintered in Corinth several months and joyfully wrote the book of Romans, capping it off with the words,

“Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you.”
(Rom 16:23).

The phrase “whole church,” as opposed to just “church” let the Roman Christians know that all the believers in Corinth were safely together in one and only one church (cf. 1 Cor. 14:23).[9]The “whole church meets together in one place, “Ἐὰν οὖν συνέλθῃ ἡ ἐκκλησία ὅλη ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτο… “If therefore the whole church assembles in one place…” He also mentions the treasurer of Corinth in 16:23, Erastus, whose patronage stone in Corinth is a significant archaeological find. A decade later Paul’s helper Erastus helped keep the church in Corinth unified (2 Tim. 4:20).

Paul’s ministry strategy blended evangelism and church planting in ever-expanding geographic regions without sacrificing church unity, something the movement of evangelicalism has been unable to attain. Indeed, it has fought it for almost 300 years.

 

The Source of Evangelicalism

In the early 1700s two men launched what became evangelicalism through itinerant ministries, ministries that had no geographic spheres but that which the two drew for themselves. Both were orthodox protestants, and both established networks using their revival preaching that stretched across the Atlantic.

Both were consummate preachers, both led many to a saving knowledge of Christ, and both stayed with the Church of England until death while yet founding denominations outside of it. As well, both of them were foolish in marriage, for both had distressed and distant marriages that dishonored the portrayal of Christ and the Church.

They knew each other from youth through death, and even became famous theological sparring partners with each becoming acrimonious at different times. One was unabashedly Arminian and the other an ardent Calvinist. Who were these mighty men? John Wesley, and George Whitefield.

 

John Wesley

john wesleyIn 1739, at the age of 35, John Wesley was under intense pressure not to preach from his superiors in his Church of England. He was too popular. As a result, they barred him from preaching in most parish townships.

Wesley knew many of the Church of England churches were spiritually dead and were led by men who found his doctrine disagreeable. Yet his preaching was so stirring and so filled with Christ that multitudes were coming to the parishes he preached at. In the days before the censures from bishops and other ecclesiastical officials, he would come in to a church, preach on salvation from sin. However, his doctrine and its results create massive problems for the parish pastors.

Here he was, preaching salvation from God’s wrath, through Christ, received by faith alone, and most of these pastors despised the doctrine. But after hearing Wesley the people wanted to hear that doctrine from their parish pastors, too. But when they asked their pastors to do so the ministers were confused and unable, for they likely did know Christ, had no desire to get in trouble with their bishop, nor how to help afflicted consciences find relief by faith in God.

The Church of England had long relied upon religious suppression and apathy. Others, especially the rich, were filled with religious apathy. So suffering rejection from his peers and the gentrified, Wesley went out to preach in open fields and people by the hundreds came to hear him. Some jeered, but some repented and believed on Christ. The reports of the preaching events as well as his sermons, all recorded by a humble Wesley, make stirring reading.

What a tension Wesley felt. His own denomination opposed the gospel for the most part while he, as a representative of it, preached the gospel and God blessed. What a dichotomy between church and salvation!

So what do you do if you are John Wesley? If you are John Wesley, you don’t shrink an inch. You take on the world.

 

I Look upon All the World as My Parish

In a letter in 1739 he expressed his thoughts famously:

“I allow no other rule, whether of faith or practice, than the holy Scriptures. but on scriptural principles, I do not think it hard to justify whatever I do. God in Scripture commands me, according to my power, to instruct the ignorant, reform the wicked, confirm the virtuous. Man forbids me to do this in another’s parish; that is, in effect, to do it at all, seeing I have now no parish of my own, nor probably ever shall. Whom then shall I hear, God or man?”

And then he wrote these words, that more than any others, launched evangelicalism:

“I look upon all the world as my parish”

wesley 1Wesley was caught in a 18th century vortex. He believed the gospel of Jesus Christ and was passionate to evangelize the perishing. But his Anglican ecclesiology was defined geographically. Bishops and those under them were apportioned to territories of varying sizes. It was, after all, “The Church of England.”

But Wesley knew that many, even most, of his overseers and fellow ministers were rank unbelievers. So in response to their disdain for him and his amazing powers in rescuing the perishing with his preaching he chose a path unlike Paul’s, or anyone else in church history, ever.

Wesley left believers in churches governed by wolves and went where he wished to spread the gospel. Whereas Paul waited on God to heal the church in Corinth before moving on to new fields of ministry Wesley sprinted for new converts in places where churches already existed, including those of his own Anglicanism. It often brought him disdain and outright persecution.

No one had ever done anything like it in the 1,700 years since Christ.

But, the world was not his parish. Nor did it ever become his parish. He never served it the Lord’s Table, preached to it, nor joined it in assembly on the Lord’s Day for worship. The claim “the world is my parish” is possible for none. None but God, of course.

It was an equally as ironic claim when considered ecclesiastically. A parish was a township, or several townships, under a Church of England bishop. No bishop, no parish. Yet those bishops were the very ones Wesley was snubbing his nose at in saying, “I look upon all the world as my parish.”

Released from sectarian and authoritarian shackles, his bravado captured thousands and launched denominations. It also modeled a new type of ministry that either didn’t need ecclesiology, or reformed it. Souls won for Christ and not ecclesiological wisdom would be the new measure of an effective minister.

Wesley would not be deterred by small men and their unbelief. It was impossible that some bishop somewhere could tell this powerhouse of a man when and where and who he could serve God. Many today follow the same path. The wills of thousands of sincere autonomous souls go into ministries accountable to no church, propelled by a similarly felt call “to the world.” And none of it has any apostolic precedent in the NT.

Which is why Wesley, although he won history’s approval, wouldn’t have won the apostle Paul’s. His solution to the problem Wesley tried to solve was deeper than Wesley’s. Paul rescued the regenerate in Corinth while exposing the religious hypocrites in both leadership and laity. Wesley left the sheep among the wolves without confronting the wolves ecclesiastically. Paul expanded the field of evangelism while protecting both the gospel and the local body of Christ from false shepherds. Paul’s solution opposed schism, Wesley’s advanced it.

In contrast, Wesley rescued no church but brought greater schism. “All the world is my parish” expressed an ecclesiology that repudiated any geographical limit to personal ministry – “I go where I want, when I want.” But Paul refused to take this worldly tact and reproved those who did. He brought purity as he led the believers to separate from the unbelievers, thus protecting the people of God and expanding the churches by waiting for the Lord to work. But Wesley simply chose to ignore the wolves, deciding God had called him to seek new sheep.

Wesley could have been led by 2 Corinthians. He could have rescued God’s people evangelistically, and have displayed a protective ministry patterned after Paul. Instead, he either ignored or was unaware of what Scripture teaches and so relied on his own reading of God’s providence, assuming it provided justification for making “the world his parish.” His letter continued:

I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation. This is the work which I know God has called me to; and sure I am that His blessing attends it.  Great encouragement have I, therefore, to be faithful in fulfilling the work He hath given me to do. His servant I am, and, as such, am employed according to the plain direction of His Word, ‘As I have opportunity, doing good unto all men’; and His providence clearly concurs with his Word; which has disengaged me from all things else, that I might singly attend on this very thing, ‘and go about doing good.’”

But Acts 10:38, the verse from which Wesley quotes, “going about doing good” is about Jesus, and contains within it the reality that He limited Himself to a tiny geographic sphere of ministry. Nor is that verse speaking about a ministry strategy or a broad geographic domain for present day gospel ministers. If one wishes to learn ministry strategy and geographic domain, one must turn to 2 Corinthians. Nor, in fact, did Wesley do good to all men, “and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). His ministry not only left many Christians under unregenerate pastors, it also schismed the body of Christ as he initiated, planned, and promoted a new denomination that competed for Christians throughout the world. So while we can rejoice in his fruitful gospel preaching, his legacy in church history is not unity but further division.

 

George Whitefield

whitefield crowdThen there is George Whitefield. In 1740 he traveled to America and preached a series of revivals that became known as The Great Awakening. He was almost certainly the most popular man of his day, and in some circles, the most despised as well.

He was, above all, exceedingly famous. It is estimated that roughly 80% of all American colonists heard him preach at least once. He employed a close friend to travel with him and attend all his meetings. This friend then wrote glowing accounts of them and always sent them weekly to the newspapers in all the major cities of America and England. The thrilling accounts sold newspapers, who quickly printed these accounts. Thus Whitefield pioneered what is common place today – publicists, press releases and self-promotion in ministry.[10]See Harry Stout’s account of William Seward in The Divine Dramatist, George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism, pp.89-90.

The accounts dramatically detailed the numbers of people who came to hear Whitefield and their responses. In them all, Whitefield was ever the hero. It not only made him famous, but larger than life.

Whitefield was an amazing man. H preached the new birth passionately, something almost unheard of in Church of England pulpits. Moreover, he did in a way at odds with the reserved and often affected manner of churchmen. Whitefield had loved the stage as a young man and had been trained to act in character. In all his preaching he was the consummate character actor in his preaching.

whitefield 1If his topic stretched to damnation his tears fell abundantly, and were utterly heart-felt. He walked, and he strutted. He quite literally acted out the sermon. As a result they were memorized affairs, rich in analogy and illustration. He preached relatively few unique sermons in his life, instead giving the same set of sermons in every place he went. Ben Franklin heard several of Whitefield’s sermon dozens of times and loved them better after each new hearing. He was so effective he almost shut down London play-houses – one of his stated goals. Stage actors of the day had a love-hate relationship with Whitefield. They despised him for stealing their business at the playhouse, but admired his elocutionary and dramatic skills.

Like Wesley, Whitefield was despised by his Church of England, a fact which he greatly used to his advantage. Once again stodgy churchmen despised him and refused to let him preach in their churches. Whitefield had their refusals reported in the press reports sent domestically and abroad. So when he came to a region, thousands would listen to him outside – in a pouring rain if necessary – while his publicist friend would describe in detail for all the newspapers how the church in that region had forbidden him entrance. It made for delicious press – his own religious group rejected him and in so doing, forced thousands outside to listen to one of his sermons.

It was a narrative made for America. The American press fed and nurtured an already deeply suspicious public that plays well to American Christians to this day – that churches are not to be trusted because deep down they are opposed to the work of the gospel and only want control. They resist the Spirit. Today’s internet preachers and self-promoting ministries feed this conception – that the evangelist who is loosely tethered to a church is more trustworthy and more Spirit-led.

Whitefield’s strategies produced the same ecclesiastical results as did Wesley’s. He too organized a new denomination formed out of the Church of England and Wesley’s Methodists called the Calvinistic Methodists, although he dropped out of it within a decade. In the years after the denomination itself split into congregational and episcopal style organizations, and then later in Wales into a connectional polity. One man writes,

“Whitefield has been attributed with pioneering non-denominational, international, para-church ministry. He preached to the heart, and demanded a response. He utilized the media and blazed the trail which future generations of Evangelical Revivalists, chaplains, youth and student para-church leaders and Christian charities have followed.”

 

Partisan Networks and Revivalism

By noting the original practices gospel coalitionof evangelicalism we might smile that some Christians who judge evangelicalism as misguided, such as Fundamentalists, are themselves thoroughly evangelical in practice. They too practice the two distinctives of evangelicalism: partisan networking and revivalism.

Is it honest and fair to say partisan networks like Together for the Gospel, or The Gospel Coalition, or even the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International are ecclesiastically misguided as judged by the apostolic writings? If that doesn’t sound narrow and legalistic, it at least sounds jealous or snobbish. But it’s not, and rather easily seen.

As begun by Wesley and Whitefield one of the marks of evangelicalism is the deeply-felt motive to establish formal connections with other Christians in distant regions. Not connections with all Christians, but only with those who are aligned with one’s perspectives on select areas of doctrine or practice are worthy of such networking and connection. Such like-mindedness is less than the apostolic standard which is all who live near to you and have the mind of Christ (i.e., regeneration).

The apostolic commands such as “love one another” and “prefer the other before yourself” pertain to loving all the genuinely regenerate where you and I live, not just those Christians who share our group’s particular doctrines and practices in other locations.

Paul demanded affiliation with all the body of Christ in Corinth. The matter was not peripheral. In the name and place of the risen Christ, he rebuked any and all partisan Christian affiliations,

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment…What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided?”
(1 Cor. 1:10-13).

He called such affiliations carnal boasting:

“let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you,
whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas…”
(1 Cor. 3:21)

At the risk of sounding either ignorant or strident, such networking blinds the regenerate from Christ’s most basic command of loving your brother when your brother is your fellow Christian where you live.

Evangelical networks are comprised almost exclusively of those who live far away but share the network’s distinctives. In distinction the apostolic apostolic fellowship commands are always geographically oriented, such as using one’s spiritual gifts to build up the local body, or praying for “one another.”

But networked fellowships foster an “us vs. them” mentality of competition with those Christians who live near you. Your group is better for x, y, and z. Worse, your fellowship trains you to suppress the apostolic commands in unrighteousness. You owe your Christian neighbor your exercise of your gifts, not the Christians who live far away. All who find their fellowship in networks train themselves to squelch the Holy Spirit’s abundant commands for local fellowship.

Your fellow believers who live within close geographic proximity deserve from you your love and gifts. Christ gave them to you for them. Not only are all the “one another” commands local (to the church in Thessalonica, to the saints at Colossae,” etc.) but so are the commands to exercise your gift as well: “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:10).

Partisan affiliations among Christians train us in blind disobedience.

Billy grahamThe second practice of evangelicalism is revivalism, however it may be expressed. From Whitefield and Wesley, from Jonathan Edwards to Charles Finney, from D.L. Moody to Billy Sunday to John Rice, from Billy Graham to Martyn Lloyd-Jones, from Franklin Graham, as far as Luis Palau, revivalism is a faith that God routinely sweeps people into His kingdom of grace though large meetings (larger than Sunday morning), emotionally powerful preaching, music and testimony. So powerful is this practice that it unites even Arminians and Calvinists so long as they don’t have to go to church together.

Yet revivals are a relatively recent practice, for it has really only been a feature of Christianity in the last ten or fifteen percent of church history. In distinction, when the risen Christ speaks, He speaks only to churches in their weekly worship, even as He speaks only to the one church in the city comprised of all the regenerate (Rev. 2-3, 22). He doesn’t speak to networks or revivals in Scripture. He is so holy He is only to be found in the places He chooses.

This is the ultimate answer to the evangelical protest, “Scripture nowhere says we can’t conduct revivals, or form networks.” That’s simply untrue. True, Scripture doesn’t tell us all we need to know about raising children, or even marriage. But it does tell us everything we need to know about all the Christ-honoring practices of churches passed along by the apostles (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15, John 16:13-15). In other words, the Bible is a complete and sufficient document for how churches are to do ministry.

 

Re-Planting

self promotion 2When evangelical men plant a church nowadays they almost never go where the body of Christ doesn’t exist but rather where it does exist. In other words, there are already gospel churches there and God already has a people there for His name.

They don’t go to bring the gospel; the gospel is already there. They go to re-plant – not the gospel but a church typically comprised of people from other churches. They believe their own church will be more evangelistic/more faithful/more scriptural/more gospel-centered/more compassionate, and therefore, more sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading than the other churches in the target location. If they didn’t believe that, they wouldn’t start a church there.

The commonality in them all? The planter, and those sending him, believe the body of Christ in the target region is deficient, and their church will be a solution to that deficiency. Never mind that the body of Christ in that city never asked such men to come.

Instead, like the interlopers in Corinth, such church planters are sent by men from other places, men who are not a part of the body of Christ that already exists in the target city. In fact, the members of the body of Christ in the target city are typically deemed as part of the problem that their new church plant will fix. So based on the commendation of men who are not even a part of the body of Christ in that sphere (2 Cor. 10:16), they go, believing they are sent by God.

Who are these evangelicals? Self-promoters who boast for themselves in what they accomplish in the sphere of ministry ordained of God for others:

“not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men’s labors,
but with the hope that as your faith grows, we will be,
within our sphere, enlarged even more by you,

so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not
to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another.

But he who boasts is to boast in the Lord. For it is not he who
commends himself that is approved, but
he whom the Lord commends.”
(2 Cor. 10:15-18)

Is God being honored in all these church plants where His body already exists? Less than 10% of church plants survive more than five years. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars that could could have gone to the Great Commission, are wasted in most major places every year.[11]For more please read Planting Schism

Here’s a further way to see the boasting. Church planters who go to cities and regions where the body of Christ already exists often rely on letters of commendation for acceptance (such as this). These letters, written from Christian leaders to Christians at the target location and elsewhere are designed to provide a rationale for the church plant, and their endorsement of it. Such letters express confidence in the man doing the church plant, and are a recruiting tool to Christians looking for a new church in the target area.

But Paul refused to put himself forward through letters of commendation (2 Cor. 3:1), and eschewed all such commendation as a way to gain the trust of Christians:

we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those
who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves
by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves,
they are without understanding.

For not he who commends himself is approved,
but whom the Lord commends.
(2 Cor. 10:12, 18)

Yesterday’s letters of commendation are fast-becoming today’s videos found on the church planter’s website in which a respected person or persons vouch for the church planter’s character and ministry. The videos are not aimed at sharing the gospel but target existing Christians for financial support and joining the plant.

Today’s church planters are rarely, if ever, funded by people in the location they are sent, thought there may well be hundreds of gospel churches already there. They are instead supported almost exclusively by outsiders. Consider the implications for such investors. They are paying someone to break Paul’s theology of geographic spheres of ministry in 2 Cor. 10:13-16. They are paying them to harvest crops from another’s field (cf. 1 Cor. 3:9-10). The result? Both investor and the seed planter forfeit the commendation of the Lord Jesus who like Paul, limited His sphere of ministry, (Mat. 15:24).

The following is from a guide on how to raise funds for a Southern Baptist church plant:

“The church planter may begin tapping such resources by developing
a fundraising brochure, a fundraising letter, and a fundraising
“conversation.” In this approach, the planter should mail the
promotional letter and brochure, including a cover letter of
commendation for the new church from a respected, well-
known leader in the denomination, to potential donors,
especially to persons who have previously
demonstrated interest in new work.”

It concludes,

“When one examines the entire financial picture,
‘There’s gold,’ as John Maxwell puts it,
‘in them thar’ pews.'”

Compare that to Paul’s church planting testimony: “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes” (Act 20:33). And this isn’t just those connected to the Southern Baptist Convention, but today’s wider evangelical world is energized by self-commending men of every theology and doctrinal stripe.

 

Loving and Hating the Churches

Evangelicalism has always existed in a common frustration, and it is this: existing churches and their weaknesses are deemed necessary but often a hindrance to the work of evangelism. Further, it is more important to see people delivered from their sins is deemed a greater priority than uniting churches.

There is a measure of truth here. The New Covenant is a promise of the forgiveness of sins, not the perfection of churches. But the two realities, forgiveness and church, are not unattached. In addition to forgiveness the New Covenant also promises its recipient holy fellowship: “they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Heb. 8:11). The word “neighbor” shows this is fulfilled in those who live near to each other and who worship alongside each other.

Further, unity is critical to God-glorifying evangelism. Only when the Christians in a locale worship Christ in one church together are the unbelievers accurately evangelized. That’s a high claim but Jesus said, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).[12]This is not a promise of universal and invisible spiritual privilege believers share by union with Christ since the world cannot see that unity and thereby cannot believe based upon it.

Moreover, in the New Testament we see the opposite. There is far more teaching to Christians on unity than evangelism. When love and humility (virtues that are matured in church) are added to unity, the weight of apostolic teaching is clear. Unity, love, and humility are critical factors in a witness that properly displays Jesus Christ to the unbelievers where one lives.

Unity also strengthens churches even as schism, the practice by which the body of Christ in any one location is split into two or more churches, is condemned (1 Cor. 1:10). Likewise, those who want to plant their own style of church where the body of Christ already exists are rebuked (Rom. 16:17-18).

Now, evangelicals typically advance notions of unity as a good thing, just not ecclesiastic unity. It’s a love-hate thing with evangelicals and churches. They believe the best practice today is to plant ever more churches, for that gets more people saved:

“The way to grow the number of Christians in a city is not mainly
through church renewal but through church planting.”[13]Tim Keller, Center Church, 359

“The only way to be truly sure you are increasing the
number of Christians in a town is to increase
the number of churches.”[14]Stetzer and Bird, Viral Churches, 199

“The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the
single most crucial strategy for the numerical growth
of the Body of Christ in any city.”[15]Acts 29 blog

“It is a fact: Planting new churches results
in more people coming to Christ.”[16]Assemblies of God Enrichment Journal

“Church planting is the best methodology
of evangelism under the sun.”[17]C. Peter Wagner, Church Planting for a Greater Harvest, 11

Sadly, that’s the ancient heresy of Pelagianism dressed in evangelical hubris. No man, or group of men, can numerically grow the number of Christians anywhere by any means. Salvation is from God, and not a response from God to church planters. God only has ordained so many to eternal life in each city, and no revival and no church can add a single soul to His elect (Acts 18:10, Eph. 1:4, Rev. 5:9-10).

But this is roundly rejected and is one reason why a geographic sphere of a ministry is viewed as ridiculous. A limited sphere of ministry appear to us kingdom-building evangelicals to hinder God from doing what He best likes to do, save people.

But when you open your Bible, you won’t find revivalism, and you won’t find networks, and for sure – you’ll never find church planting where the body of Christ already exists.

Instead, you’ll find instead what God loves: churches of regenerate sinners for whom His Son died, one in each place.

 

For more, please read Paul’s Reformation on Crete and The Local Body of Christ.

 

References   [ + ]

1. Representing the Stone-Campbell Restoration movement, William R. Baker writes, “Convening on August 19, 1846, as many as a thousand delegates from more than 150 nations and representing more than 50 denominations gathered for 14 days in London… It is here that evangelicalism was born.” Baker identifies as an evangelical but not as a Protestant – and he delays the start of evangelicalism to 100 years after Wesley and Whitefield, and the start of the Restorationist movement. Evangelicalism and the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. W. R. Baker, 31
2. Larsen’s definition is superior to David Bebbington’s quadrilateral since Bebbington’s ignores history. Bebbington allows for all sorts of persons who would not have self-identified as evangelicals such as Athanasius, Augustine, John Chrysostom, John Calvin, Martin Luther, and Richard Baxter. Larsen actually adds three more points to his definition but they build off the first two and in my judgment add little to them. Adding to Larsen’s revival component, Mark Noll adds the conversion-assessment theology of Jonathan Edwards into his definition of evangelical in his book, The Rise in Evangelicalism. But he self-admittedly describes the efforts of less than one half of evangelicalism’s history, the Calvinistic part, for Edward’s conversion-assessment theology has never been embraced by John Wesley’s evangelical Arminian heirs, which numerically are more than the Calvinistic heirs.
3. Paul wrote 2 Corinthians from northern Greece and was planning his next visit south to Corinth in the near future. This visit would be his third to the city in his apostolic travels. The first time he planted the church (1 Cor. 3:6) and the second time was a “painful visit” (2 Cor. 2:3). His third visit was coming soon, but to prepare the Corinthians for it, he wrote a letter of instruction in 2 Corinthians. That instruction involves their obedience in not only separating from a group of unbelievers in their church but also from one or more leaders in the church, men who are critics of Paul. If the believers do not separate from the critics and their followers then the church in Corinth will descend into full disobedience.
4. For instance, Peter and John must first validate the gospel’s extension into Samaria before accepting it as the work of God. The same happens with Cornelius (Acts 10-11). Later, Antioch’s troublers are discredited: “Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Act 15:24-26).
5. I got the word “spheres” from II Corinthians 10 where Paul speaks in the New American Standard about the “spheres” he had been called into. And with these spheres there were seven of them…
6. The alleged apostolic spheres are, 1. The home; 2. The church; 3. Schools; 4. Government and politics; 5. The media; 6. Arts, entertainment, and sports; 7. Commerce, science, and technology. Wagner’s apostolic theology is exposed as false and dangerous by 2 Corinthians 10:12. According to Paul the false apostle had gained acceptance among the believers in Corinth. First, he had “classed himself.” “To class” is from “ἐγκρῖναι” – to assess or judge something for the purpose of classifying it. Wagner’s classifications of apostles are ecclesiastical apostles, functional apostles, congregational apostles, convening apostles, ambassadorial apostles, mobilizing apostles, territorial apostles, and marketplace apostles. Second, the false apostle had also “compared himself.””To compare” is from “συγκρῖναι” and describes a process of approval from others. Which raises the question, ‘how do today’s apostles get recognized as apostles?‘ For Wagner, the answer appears to be that he will recognize you as an apostle through an organization, the International Coalition of Apostles. Though few Christians recognize this organization, apostles can recognize each other. At least, as long as their annual dues are paid up. Thus they measure themselves by themselves.
7. When used to build temples, a canon was a wooden bar coated with red pigment. “The stones of great public buildings were shaped according to precise specifications… The process was an elaborate one. It entailed preparing surfaces by cutting and rubbing, and testing them for flatness by means of a ‘canon,’ a straightedge that could show up any unevenness on the stone…“David J Williams, Paul’s Metaphors, 17. Using a pigmented rod showed shaping flaws in the stones so they could be resurfaced so they snugly fit together. That process is called “being fit together” (used in Eph. 2:21, 4:16). Williams, p. 28, n. 72.
8. Commentary on Galatians, p. 221.
9. The “whole church meets together in one place, “Ἐὰν οὖν συνέλθῃ ἡ ἐκκλησία ὅλη ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτο… “If therefore the whole church assembles in one place…” He also mentions the treasurer of Corinth in 16:23, Erastus, whose patronage stone in Corinth is a significant archaeological find. A decade later Paul’s helper Erastus helped keep the church in Corinth unified (2 Tim. 4:20).
10. See Harry Stout’s account of William Seward in The Divine Dramatist, George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism, pp.89-90.
11. For more please read Planting Schism
12. This is not a promise of universal and invisible spiritual privilege believers share by union with Christ since the world cannot see that unity and thereby cannot believe based upon it.
13. Tim Keller, Center Church, 359
14. Stetzer and Bird, Viral Churches, 199
15. Acts 29 blog
16. Assemblies of God Enrichment Journal
17. C. Peter Wagner, Church Planting for a Greater Harvest, 11

4 Comments

  1. 1
    Ron Kyker says:

    A wonderful article. It gives me a lot to think about considering my website ministry. I have found too many Churches that reject the gospel, so I began writing on my own website. Makes me re-think my whole approach. Thanks for this very insightful and biblical look at evangelicalism. I didn’t see myself that way before reading. I have struggled with how to preach my message, but stay connected with a Denomination/Church that espouses such a watered down version of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. With much prayer and a new look at what I am doing, you may have very well led me in a biblical direction. Thank you! ron,

  2. 2
    Paul Moe says:

    You have some great points and valid criticisms of evangelicals today – things we need to repent from. But, if you are going to criticize Wesley and for creating schisms in the church and leaving believers under the care of wolves wouldn’t we have to criticize Luther for creating his own denomination and or the Puritans for leaving their domination or every denomination in existence today including yours? We could make the argument that Luther should have waited for God to heal the Catholic Church leadership before translating Scripture into the common language and creating so much strife in the church.

    How can make the argument that God doesn’t do revivals? What about all of the revivals He sent to the children of Israel through His prophets? Can you please list the revivals that you say only happened in the last 15% of church history? And how do you know that God didn’t save massive amounts of people in those times of revival – do you have perfect understanding of people’s hearts before God throughout history? The gospel was preached in boldness, power and truth under Edwards just as Paul preached in the power and demonstration of the Spirit. My brother, I would be very careful with teaching that God doesn’t revive His church!

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      Ted says:

      Hi Paul,

      No, Luther did not form a denomination, others after him did. He labored valiantly to maintain the unity of the believers in Wittenburg and elsewhere while leading others out of the dark hole of Roman Catholicism. Only when they hereticalized him and cast him out of their religious institution did it become apparent that a separation (not a schism) must take place. As for the Puritans, most likewise were separated by a religious institution for being obedient to the commands of God regarding pure worship in Scripture. What happened to them and Luther is similar to what Paul commands of the believers in Corinth: separation (see 2 Cor. 6:14-17). They were not schismatics.

      So called revivals in the OT (there is no instance of “revival” in the Bible) were all-too-brief seasons of a rededication to Scripture reading and genuine temple worship to the exclusion of the high places, but none worked on the hearts of Israel to the extent might be supposed (2 Chr. 34:33). None were deep enough to avert the wrath of God, 2 Chr. 36:14-17.

      So what does avert the wrath of God? In the New Covenant the wrath of God is entirely removed for us via the propitiatory death and subsequent resurrection of God’s Son (1 John 2:2). The Holy Spirit testifies and makes that one central event ever greater in the hearts of believers as we grow into maturity. But all along our walk we never lose the favor of God, and never need to be revived back into His covenant favor. We thus have nothing substantial to be revived back into, or else the death of Christ is insufficient for us.

      Thus, God is about the business of saving His Universal Church through the death of our Substitute, but not reviving it, for it was once revived (if we use that word) fully in the death and resurrection of Christ, the testator. Now we see it, the Universal Church, brought out of death and into life through the work of the mediator, “the testimony given at the proper time” (1 Tim. 2:6).

      In order to develop Christ-honoring thinking on revival, look in the New Testament for every precept that teaches we are to pray for revivals and organize them, and for every example of revivals in the New Testament as well. Brotherly hint: there are none.

      So don’t get too stressed. Love your church.

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        Paul Moe says:

        Ted, thanks for your response. Good points on Luther and Puritans. Regarding revival I do not view revival as a coming back to covenant favor with Christ. It is not about finding favor with Him again. I agree that we cannot organize them – it is ridiculous to even think so – only the Holy Spirit can work upon men’s hearts. I also agree that there is no scripture that say “pray for revival” but Christ did tell his church to wake up (Rev 3:2) and to return to her first love (Rev 2:4). This would imply that the church has the capability of falling asleep and growing cold in our love for Christ and others. This also implies that even churches with great doctrine who have suffered persecution can grow cold in their heart towards Christ. I believe true revival is the extraordinary and gracious work of the Holy Spirit convicts entire congregations and communities all at once of sin, righteousness and judgment. People both in and outside the church who once trampled on the blood of Christ have a sudden awareness that they have made a wrong judgment of who Christ is and that if they don’t repent they will face Him as judge. Entire communities are overwhelmed by the Holy nature of God. I would argue that the early churches were in a revived state ( for lack of a different word) so they were not in need of revival. We, however, are in a very poor state. Many of our men (and even worse our pastors) do not pray nor know how to pray. Many of our men our are addicted to all sorts of vile things. Many marriages in our churches are crumbling. Many in Christ’s church are fat with Scripture knowledge but we do not obey it. I believe the American church is in a very low state. I love Christ’s church. I pray for Christ’s church. I weep over Christ’s church. We are in great need of the truth to penetrate our hard hearts and to encounter the Holy presence of God. You may call that something else but I say we are in need of reviving. Thank you for your encouragement to love the church. God bless,
        Paul

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